We recently discussed the courageous stand of the University of Chicago in favor of free speech (a position followed by schools like Purdue). Free speech is being rapidly diminished on our campuses as an ever-widening scope of speech has been declared hate speech or part of the ill-defined “microaggression.” Now Berkeley has shown the world exactly what this intolerance looks like as protesters attacked people, burned property, and rioted to stop other people from hearing the views of a conservative speaker. As on so many campuses, they succeeded. The speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was cancelled. A triumph of anti-speech protesters. Berkeley now must face a defining moment. The only appropriate response for the school is to immediately reschedule the speaker and stand in defiance of those who want to deny the right to speak (and to hear and associate) to others. Moreover, it is liberals who should be on the forefront in denouncing these protests and the effort to stop this event. Otherwise, it can follow the lead of schools like DePaul and cast aside free speech in yielding to the mob.
Berkeley has previously been a battleground over effective speech codes and an example of the crackdown on free speech on college campuses as administrators punish any speech deemed insensitive or the still ill-defined category of “microaggressions.” One of the greatest concerns is the double standard showed to different speakers based on their content. The University of California at Berkeley is the most recent example of this controversy. In columns for the Daily Californian titled “Speaking Out”, “Fucking White Boys,” and “Choosing Myself Over White People”, Maggie Lam mocked and ridiculed white people. A column using such language mocking people of color would instantly trigger demands for expulsion.
Protesters not only succeeded in blocking others from hearing from this speaker but they then proceeded to riot and destroy property outside of campus. This is the result of years of academics declaring some speech as unworthy of protection and enabling students who believe that no one should be allowed to express views that they feel is discriminatory or demeaning or hateful.
Yiannopoulos is a gay conservative who is a popular speaker with his “Dangerous Faggot” talks. Hours before his event, protesters began throwing fireworks and destroying property to stop him from speaking. People who came to see him were reportedly attacked — an ironic twist for protesters who said that they wanted to fight hate speech. Protesters chanted “Milo has got to go” in an effort to prevent people from hearing his views.
Berkeley can yield to the mob and surrender free speech to a violent mob. Alternatively, it can reschedule the event and expel any students who engage in violence on campus. The choice is between being a place of learning and being a place of indoctrination. This is one of the truly great universities in the world and once the center of the fight for free speech in the 60s. At one time it was the students who stood bravely for free speech. Now it must be the faculty. I know little about this speaker and I have never read his work. I do not have to. There are those who want to hear from him. A college is a place where different voices should be heard. These protesters are the face of true intolerance. What they are attempting to do is inimical to the being essence of academic institutions.
Berkeley insists that the violence was committed by “outsiders.” I hope so. I have no problem with student protesters who disagree with a speaker. However, I wish that I would see just one college where a speaker like Yiannopoulos was protected by a line of “Liberals for Free Speech” who do not agree with him but support his right to speak. Those students who try to interrupt speakers or block doors (and we have seen many in the last couple years) are seeking to censor the speech of others.
Berkeley needs to bring this speaker back.